On the first day of July, Juventus rolled out a pair of videos across their social media platforms displaying two of their cornerstone players getting new numbers. One of those guys is 24 years old, the other one is 22 years old, so in theory they are ones that you can see with those numbers on their respective backs for many, many years to come.
We have seen Dusan Vlahovic rocking the No. 9 jersey for nearly half the 2022-23 season now.
The guy who took over Vlahovic’s number that he first had when he signed with Juventus back in the final days of the January transfer window? Well, he final made his return to the field against Paris Saint-Germain in Juve’s Champions League final group stage game back on Nov. 2 in Turin.
Federico Chiesa had been on the sidelines and waiting for his return ever since he injured his knee in Juventus wild Jan. 9 win over Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. We knew basically from the very first moment that we saw Chiesa’s leg move in the way it did that the news was going to be good, and ever since that moment we’ve been wondering when the moment Chiesa would return would be.
It was a waiting game that lasted 297 days between appearances.
It was a process — a long and patience-testing process simply waiting to see Chiesa’s smiling face back on the training field at Continassa again. But with that taking place almost immediately after Juventus’ win over Bologna in early October, it set the wheels in motion for Juventus’ superstar-in-waiting out wide to try and retake his rightful place again.
We’re no longer waiting for Federico Chiesa to officially make his comeback. But we also know that the process is not fully over since Chiesa is very much still working his way back into being a player who can handle a heavy workload that comes with being a leading man at a club like Juve. We’re still waiting for one of Juventus’ best players to reclaim the throne he was about to take before he became the latest player to be claimed by the Stadio Olimpico turf. We’re still waiting to see what kind of player Chiesa is after the biggest setback of his career to date.
In short, we’ve just been waiting for Federico Chiesa to step onto the field again for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. That wait is over when it comes to his comeback, and it’s a beautiful thing to see that smiling face on the field again.
And that, no matter how you slice it, is something that we can all agree has not been easy because Chiesa means so much more to this club than just being a really, really good player who you can build around in the present and the future.
The on-field impact
A constant throughout Chiesa’s journey back into being called up for an actual matchday squad was the simple question of what kind of player he is going to be when he stepped back onto the field.
it’s undeniable that Juventus, in its current state, has been crying out for a player of Chiesa’s qualities during his long-term injury absence. No matter if it’s the aggressive runs forward, the scoring opportunities he creates for himself and his teammates or simply the element of speed — something that not many Juve attackers can provide — Chiesa has a skillset that nobody at Juventus can match. He’s a great player in his own right, but he’s also one that has proven to make those around him a whole lot better, too.
Like we saw in his return against PSG, Chiesa has come back and immediately wants to prove that he’s the same old Fred Church that we adored before his injury. He has not held back or played things safe in his two appearances against PSG and then Inter. Maybe that is a result of him knowing full well he’s on a minutes restriction so he can go all-out for a maximum of 20-something minutes and not have to worry much about pacing himself. But it is more to the fact of playing with confidence right away after such a major injury and trusting his body regardless of having to miss 10 months.
The only question left is this: When will Chiesa make his full-time return to the starting lineup?
If anything, the World Cup break has told us that Max Allegri is continuing to take a cautious approach with Chiesa’s return. He is back from the muscle fatigue that he dealt with right before Christmas, but Chiesa didn’t appear in any of Juventus’ three friendlies during the break. It’s the right kind of choice when it comes to Chiesa’s health because, in the end, they are just friendlies with players at all different kinds of fitness levels following the World Cup.
But for Chiesa, before he suffered his minor muscle injury in training, those friendlies were viewed as the chance to really start to ramp up for the comeback to full-on action.
For all we know, Chiesa’s fitness level is ready for a heavier workload coming out of the gate. Or, just like we saw in the pre-World Cup break matches after he made his comeback, Allegri will continue to slow play things.
But what we do know is this: If Chiesa can look a lot like the player we saw against PSG whenever his minutes start to become more and more then there’s good things happening for Juventus. Why? Because getting Chiesa back on the field and on a regular basis is going to be one of the biggest shots in the arm this team needs after righting the ship domestically with its six-game winning streak going into the break.
Any reader of this blog over the last couple of years ever since he signed with Juventus will know how much joy Chiesa the person brings yours truly. Take out the player that scores goals and makes crazy runs that steals the soul of opposing defenders, it’s simply Chiesa being Chiesa off the field that endears him to so many, including myself.
Do you need proof of what makes me laugh?
This is one of the many examples of what makes me laugh about Chiesa and his facial expression:
it's a real shame he has no personality pic.twitter.com/bZVF96UGnR— Black & White & Read All Over (@JuventusNation) July 9, 2021
The guy is a walking embodiment of every kind of expression an Italian man or woman can show you within a matter of minutes (or seconds, for that matter). A few photos before this, there was a picture of Chiesa reacting to a missed goal-scoring opportunity by hiking the very bottom part of his shorts up to his waist, creating the sort of visual that makes you wonder just how much he was hurting after that.
But what I’ve missed about not seeing Chiesa on a regular basis during his 10 months on the sidelines is just how much joy he exudes when he plays this game and is around this team. The guy is in his mid-20s and genuinely seems to love life and has fun along the way. There is some very natural awkwardness mixed in there, too, but that’s part of what makes Chiesa so amusing. Obviously, ever since he first hurt his knee in Rome last January, it had been a challenging time and quite the test of the dude’s character to stay positive despite any sort of setbacks that he’s had. (And considering he was originally thought to be back in the starting lineup by now but is now nearly a year removed from his last start, there’s been a few minor setbacks along the way as he’s increased his workload.)
At the same time, I imagine Chiesa trying to make the best of the situation even though I think we can all assume that some of these rehab sessions were not easy or something that brought a whole lot of joy.
Chiesa is not a big social media guy. He’s on Instagram, but he’s not posting much or even provided a whole lot of updates throughout the rehab process. He’s on Twitter, but hasn’t posted a single tweet since March 2018 or even liked a tweet in 2 1⁄2 years.
He’s a at the age in which guys who are his age — or even older — are constantly into the self-promotion or anything close to that. Most of his IG story posts are either with his girlfriend or from the Juventus account. It’ simple — and that’s what makes Chiesa the kind of dude you love to love.
It’s because of the joy he exudes. It’s because of the heart that he wears on his sleeve. It’s because of the passion he brings to the field while playing this game that he is so clearly very good at.
The role for the future and a case of the unknown
Before his injury, Chiesa was on the cusp of stardom. While his 2021-22 season wasn’t all that great when his knee exploded, the momentum he took from his first year with Juventus and then his performances at Euro 2020(1) can’t be denied.
That’s the Chiesa we know.
That’s the Chiesa we’re hoping to see again.
But for as much as we love Chiesa, we still don’t know what kind of player he will be after coming back from knee surgery. We’ve seen it in incredibly small sample sizes off the bench, but we don’t know just yet how his body will respond to an increased load of minutes. While Juventus, thankfully, haven’t exactly had a ton of players deal with this kind of knee injury over the last decade, the post-injury developments haven’t been close to
Giorgio Chiellini was able to come back from his torn ACL and, despite his body breaking down in other ways, be a contributor in his last few years at Juventus. Merih Demiral, while showing he was still a young defender in many ways, came back from his ACL injury and has become an important piece to Atalanta’s hot start to begin the 2022-23 season.
But for every one of those players, there’s always going to be somebody like Marko Pjaca who never was the same kind of player after suffering a major knee injury that is going to linger in the back of your head when somebody sees his ACL go pop. (And he had to go through all of that twice!)
While the rehabilitation process has been lengthy — we basically saw things go a full 10 months out from the initial surgery to his return to a game — there is no guarantee that Chiesa is at the same kind of level he was when he was lighting up the Euros in the summer of 2021.
Sure, the initial signs are positive, but Chiesa is still a question mark when it comes to his ability to handle regular playing time and not continue to be hampered by nagging injuries. This is the unknown that we go into as Chiesa approaches the one-year anniversary of his injury at the Olimpico.
Maybe that start comes against Cremonese. Maybe it comes against Udinese or even Napoli. No matter what, though, the first post-injury start is coming sooner rather than later and we will get to see what a Chiesa who is back to full health can do for hopefully an extended amount of time and for years to come.
Seeing Chiesa get to this point has been quite the wait. We are all waiting to see the Chiesa from his first season at Juventus again, the Chiesa that absolutely lit up the Euros again. Waiting can be tough, but the payoff can most definitely be the ultimate reward. If he’s the Chiesa of old, the wait will have been worth it.